NFL Playoff Projection: The Cardinals' hold on the No. 1 seed might depend on beating Rams

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In a competitive NFC, one loss on Monday night could unravel a lot of the good the Arizona Cardinals have done this season. 

The Cardinals are 10-2, the best record in the NFC. They lead the NFC West and have the inside track to the NFC's No. 1 seed. But they're not in the clear yet. 

Arizona plays the most important game to the playoff picture in Week 14, when they host the 8-4 Los Angeles Rams (+2.5 at BetMGM) on Monday night. With a win, the Cardinals would clinch the tiebreaker over the Rams due to a season sweep and have a three-game lead and the tiebreaker with four games to go. The division race would be all but over. The Cardinals, who do have some tough games remaining after the Rams, would still hold onto the No. 1 seed. 

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Michael Wagstaffe)
(Yahoo Sports graphics by Michael Wagstaffe)

Or, the Cardinals could be knocked out of the No. 1 seed by Tuesday morning and have to worry about the Rams catching them for the division. Maybe the angst over the division is unfounded: The Rams have two division losses, the Cardinals have none, so they still would lead the tiebreaker race no matter what happens Monday. But the No. 1 seed? That's an issue. 

The Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are each 9-3. The Packers beat the Cardinals earlier this season if there's a head-to-head tiebreaker between those two teams. Arizona has had a fantastic season, and with one loss Monday it could find itself in a three-way tie for the top spot in the NFC. 

Monday night's game is a big one in the playoff picture. Here are the other games that will impact the playoff picture most in Week 14: 

Steelers at Vikings (-3)

For all of the negativity over the Vikings' loss to Detroit last week, they still aren't in terrible playoff shape, even at 5-7. The race for the No. 7 seed in the NFC doesn't have a lot of strong contenders (which is why the NFL should never have expanded the playoffs, but that's a story for a different day). The Steelers are 6-5-1 and in the AFC wild-card mix. This isn't a Thursday night elimination game for the loser, but close. 

Bills at Buccaneers (-3)

The Bills missing the playoffs is more of an issue than anyone wants to admit. Football Outsiders has the Bills at a 79.5 percent chance of making the playoffs, which means they have more than a 20 percent chance of missing out. They're underdogs against Tampa Bay, and they'll be underdogs at New England. The AFC has a lot of wild-card contenders. Nobody is talking about it yet, but Buffalo is no playoff lock. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers need to keep winning to have a shot at that No. 1 NFC seed. 

Ravens at Browns (-2.5)

Both teams are coming off losses. The Ravens are still the favorites in the AFC North, but a loss here would open things up, especially for the Bengals. The 6-6 Browns are in a fierce fight for a wild-card spot. A win here not only helps there, but pulls them within one game of first place in the division. 

49ers at Bengals (-1)

Here's another game between two teams that lost last week and need to rebound quickly. You might not believe it, but the 49ers have a better playoff footing (81.6 percent chance to make the playoffs at Football Outsiders) than the Bengals (38.7 percent). That's due to the NFC wild-card race being a lot weaker. 

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